Ignoring the promise of a veto by US President George W. Bush, the US House of Representatives on Wednesday approved a war funding bill that includes a timetable for pulling US troops out of Iraq.
Lawmakers paid little heed to visiting top army general in Iraq, David Petraeus, who during a closed-door session earlier in the day championed the troop "surge" strategy and appealed for time so it could show results.
The 218-208 vote by the House links release of US$124 billion in military spending for Iraq and Afghanistan to a schedule for the pullout of US troops, starting as early as October.
The bill next faces a vote in the Senate, where it is expected to pass, before heading to Bush who has repeatedly vowed to block the bill and blasted the attempt as a sure recipe for defeat.
Democrats, who have argued that they are acting on the will of the nation, were boosted by the release of a poll that showed a majority of Americans side with them on the issue and believe victory in Iraq is no longer possible.
"If the president vetoes this legislation, he will not only be vetoing full funding for our troops, but ignoring, in my opinion, the will of the American people," House Democratic majority leader Steny Hoyer said.
"Our belief that we must hold the Iraqis accountable for achieving real progress and establish a timetable for a responsible deployment of American forces was also reinforced," he said.
Petraeus urged lawmakers to withhold judgment on the new policy -- sending 28,000 additional troops, announced in January -- despite a spike in violence including in Diyala on Monday where nine US troops were killed.
The bill provides US$124.2 billion -- even more than the administration sought -- to bankroll operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, but says US troops are to start withdrawing from Iraq in October, with a non-binding target of completing the pullout by March 31.
Clyburn said that if Petraeus could make good on his pledge to offer an assessment of the "surge" strategy by September, "what is wrong with October 1 as a date for us to start redeploying, if there's success?"
But Republican House leader John Boehner said he agreed with Petraeus' argument that setting limits on troop deployment in Iraq would not help US efforts to restore stability.
"It would hurt the very cause that we seek to win there," he said.
Republican Duncan Hunter, a ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee, said "[Petraeus] reminded us ... this is a test of wills and he admonished us, reminded us that what we say to the world, to our adversaries and our allies, is listened to by the other side."
But a poll by NBC News and the Wall Street Journal suggested that only 37 percent sided with Bush and his Republicans in believing that Congress should not set a deadline for troop withdrawal, compared with 55 percent who support a timetable.
The White House said setting a date to bring troops home sends the wrong message, is harmful to the troops and dangerous for the country's security.
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